Olympic discus champion eager to win a first ever world title in Hungarian capital
Before the World Championships in Budapest, AW caught up exclusively with Olympic discus champion Valarie Allman.
She is aiming to add a world title to her name after bronze in Oregon last summer.
We speak to Allman on everything from mindset and motivation to training and tactics.
You’ve had the six biggest throws of the year so far. How do you feel ahead of Budapest?
It’s been a very special season. I’m genuinely looking forward to these championships. I think it’s always interesting what you throw in the Diamond League and how that gives you insight throughout the season. You’re going up against the best in the world and coming away with some victories which is really good.
We’ve dived into routine and preparation in these last few weeks. It’s been about filling up my energy tank to go into battle. I’m excited to try and perform to my best.
You won a fifth US discus title in Oregon. That’s some going!
It was really special. The US Championships is one of those moments where you get to come together with so many of your family, friends and athletes. I was saying to my coach that it was nice to age like a fine wine! It’s always good to figure out how to try and become the best in your country.
You have such an amazing relationship between you and your coach [Zebulon Sion]. How’s that been?
Zebulon Sion is definitely my rock. I didn’t have aspirations of being a professional athlete until I was finishing college and thought I would work in tech. He really saw potential in myself and someone who believed that so many crazy things were possible. We’ve also faced a lot of hardships and it’s also made our bond really strong. I’m grateful to have such a knowledgable and thoughtful person in my corner.
Athletes can be seen as robots but they are still human beings with emotions. How do you view that perspective?
There are so many ups and downs. It’s easy to not have transparency and to what that looks like from a daily basis or over a season. I’m trying to do a better job of being more vulnerable when I talk to people. It is like a daily fight to be vulnerable and sometimes competitions may not go the way you want but we just talk about the journey.
If you can focus on the things that go well and nurture that then it makes whatever the result is feel special and meaningful and not that it’s just a win or loss. That’s something that I had to go through in Eugene last year when I got bronze in Eugene a year after becoming Olympic champion.
It was so bittersweet and at the time it felt like a failure to get a bronze medal but it gave me perspective and I think I’ve learned a lot about what’s important to me. I do feel genuinely excited and how to feel proud of it.
The Asics philosophy is a “Sound Mind in a Sound Body” and it ties in with mental health being talked about a lot more now.
When you become an athlete for the first time you focus so much on your physical strength and prowess. Is my body ready? But so much of it is about the mental side and it’s one of the most beautiful part of ASICS.
For an athlete to do well the mind and the body have to work together. I believe that my body will always follow my mind but if my headspace isn’t as positive then I can totally feel that in how I see competition and life.
How influential have ASICS been to you?
I feel really grateful. They are a brand that embraces and celebrates their athletes. One of the things that happened after Eugene was that ASICS had a huge party waiting. There were people there from Colorado where I grew up alongside friends and family and they made that feel like such a win.
It was so special that when I felt like on the brink of failure, they made it the bronze feel like an accomplishment and so special. It changed my perspective and it was so powerful.
Are your family coming out to Budapest?
I’m so excited in the fact they are. The big surprise is that my little nephew Chase will be out in Budapest and he’ll be 10 months. My brother, sister-in-law and parents will be there.
Is there almost a point to prove after the bronze medal in Oregon?
I think the healthy way to view it is just one meet at a time and just embrace the World Championships. It’s all the work we’ve put in and I know that I want to feel proud because of the amount of time I’ve devoted to training. Successes don’t have to be black and white though.
Based on how this season has gone and the data that we have, I really feel excited about the competition and feel like it’s the best opportunity to throw furthest all season. That’s something I’d be really proud of and it’s just now executing that to the best of my ability.
Winning in Budapest therefore would be so validating but I want to give the best performance on the day and if I do that then I’ll be proud.
There’s a lot of waiting around in field events and you’ve only got a few seconds on each throw to make a difference. How do you process that?
That is one of the challenges. When you’re down there with your competitors, you’re trying to maintain your own energy and mindset. It’s figuring out how to cultivate whatever is best as a competitor. It’s being in that headspace for so long and when you get that couple of seconds it’s about execution.
A lot of it is practicing that. So we’ll warm up and take breaks in training to replicate that competition environment. You still have an energy when you’re out there but when you’re in the ring, your body is diluted with such adrenaline that it’s hard to feel that grounded tension in your legs and core.
You can practice that and we’ve tried to do that. In a championships you feel the most nerves and excitement. We’re just trying to figure out when we execute how to simplify the thoughts, tension and rhythm.
How did your ballet and dance background translate to discus?
At that point [around 14/15], I was really into dance and was like on a competitive team.
I did ballet, tap, dance, jazz and hip hop. When I first did discus it felt like choreography and there was a rhythm to it. Left arm there. Right leg here. It felt like a performance and early on it was so impactful to translate both a mindset and skill.
Now dance is something I pay homage to when looking back at my journey. Discus has been a whole and meaningful career. I’m grateful for everyone who has been with me along the way but also the relationships that have formed along the way.
If any athlete is trying something new there will be hardships and new learnings but if you embrace that it’s special how any path can unwind.